Japan: Forced Sterilization

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Japan has a long history of eugenics, crimes against humanity committed under the guise of necessary sterilizations done to prevent hereditary diseases.

Thousands of Japanese people who were forced to undergo sterilization, against their knowledge or consent. Many are currently suing for compensation. These suits came about after record detailing the country’s controversial, decades-long eugenics program had been leaked to the public.

Conducted under Japan’s Eugenics Protection Law, the controversial program operated from 1948 until as recently as 1996. The law was supposed to target people with hereditary diseases. The questionable techniques used include forced sterilization surgeries, vasectomies and vaccines. As the scandal continues it is also being exposed that many of those affected had been misdiagnosed, or knowingly wrongfully treated.

In numerous cases doctors recklessly diagnosed patients with genetic illness and performed sterilization on children as young as one-year-old child. In one case the hospital staff had said, “The reason for her operation was because she had genetic mental weakness,” according to M. Sato, whose name was changed to protect their identity. “But it’s not true. When my sister-in-law was one-year-old, she became intellectual disability because of anesthesia treatment, becoming a mentally-handicapped child.” Sato also said she learned through a Freedom of Information request that her sister-in-law had only been fifteen years old at the time of the procedure. Genetic mental disease was the only listed reason for the sterilization. Attempts to access documents relating to her sister’s surgery were unsuccessful as the files were reportedly thrown away. “The evidence of the mutilation of my sister’s body was thrown in the thrash.” “I think that the now defunct Eugenics Protection Law existed for the sole purpose to rid Japan of disabled people”, said Sato.

Another victim, known as Ms. Ilzuka recalled the tragedy surrounding her forced sterilization. Ilzuka said she was diagnosed with a non-generic mental illness at school. Being mentally disabled she was taken in as a caretaker to work at her teacher’s house. There she was constantly abused by the teacher’s wife. One day the teacher lured the girl into the hospital under a false medical checkup pretext. Once there, the doctors used restraints and anesthetics against her will. “When I woke up, I was thirsty,” Ms. Ilzuka recalls. “They told me not to drink any. That is all I remember.” Returning home after the procedure, the 16-year-old at the time was told by her parents that she was sterile and could have no children. “My father did not consent to the operation, and he was forced to sign documents by the teacher and welfare officers,” Ilzuka said.

Ilzuka explained the impact the sterilization had on her life. “I married and divorced and married again. My husband left me when I told him that I was unable to have children.” “I know I will suffer to the end of my life. If only I could go back in time but I can’t.” She called on the government to apologize and pay compensation to the many victims. Chief executive and psychologist at the Tokyo Council of Public Health center, Katsumi Yamamoto, echoed this sentiment and blamed the government. “The question is who is responsible for all of this? To me it’s the government’s fault; they executed the program, as well as the National Legislature which adopted the law.” “The doctors were also responsible but, in a way, they were used by the government,” he added.

In approximately 16,500 cases no consent was given for the procedures. In many of these cases the procedure was entirely unnecessary. Victims demanding their medical records have been told the records had been destroyed. An investigation by Kyodo News revealed that the records of some 2,700 people have been found in local government archives, a development which could open the door for victims who wish to pursue a compensation claim against the state. Of these, 1,858 underwent sterilization without consent, with only six having given their approval. Consent was unclear in the remaining cases. The survey also found that records for nearly 90% of 25,000 victims were intentionally destroyed.

Even after the law was banned the government neither apologized nor offered compensation to any victim.

A woman in Miyagi Prefecture became the first to initiate a lawsuit against the Japanese government for forced sterilization when she was a teenager, on grounds of mental disability. The woman is reportedly seeking 11 million yen (100,000 USD). This case is just one of what is thought to be as many as 25,000 victims.

Meeting to discuss the issue, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination recommended that Japan provide all victims with access to legal aid and “provide them with compensation and rehabilitative services.”

In a related topic, Japanese who wish to undergo sex change operations are required to be unwed, and without children under the age of twenty. Those who want to have a sex change operation fall under the category of, Gender Identity Disorder in Japan, which is considered a mental illness under the Mental Health and Welfare Law, according to The Asahi Shimbun. Applicants for such procedures are required by law to “permanently lack functioning gonads,” which means that they must be sterilized as part of the medical procedure according to Human Rights Watch.

Takakito Usui, a man who was born a woman filed suit in family court and lost the case, according to the Independent. Since same-sex marriage is illegal in Japan, Takakito wanted to change his gender so he could marry his girlfriend without losing his ability to become pregnant. Usui Saudi “Some people who underwent operations came to regret them.” “The essential thing should not be whether you have had an operation or not, but how you want to live as an individual.” The Japanese Justice Ministry defended the sterilization surgery requirement by holding its purpose is to avoid “various confusions” and “problems that would arise when a child was born because of the reproductive ability retained from the former sex.”

 

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